Amazon Echo’s Alexa readies to dominate hotel rooms

NATIONAL REPORT—The future is here and now. George Jetson, meet Amazon Echo’s Alexa. The voice-activated digital assistant—embraced by millions of households—is now checking into hotels. Wynn Las Vegas, Kimpton Alexis Hotel and Marriott International’s Aloft and JW Marriott brands are among the early adopters of the technology in the industry. Using Alexa, guests will be able to control the room’s temperature, TV, lights and drapery. And the best part is: They just need to ask. 

“We believe there is widespread interest among our guests in technology that is both fun and enhances their experience in the resort,” said Michael Weaver, SVP of marketing, Wynn Las Vegas. “All of our guests will enjoy asking Alexa to customize the lighting, temperature and audio/visual elements of their room. Soon, we will offer customized music options as well as the new Wynn Audio Concierge—think of it as an easily referenced in-room resort information book in audio format.” The property is implementing the device in 4,748 of its rooms by this summer.

It’s a match made in heaven—or in the cloud—so to speak. And, it’s a boon for both sides: Hoteliers are able to provide a tech-forward level of personalized service, freeing up staff members, while Amazon gains a captive audience, who, in turn, could be future customers for its artificial intelligence (AI) device. No brands have come forward with plans to sell the Amazon Echo, but the potential is there. 

“We’ve already installed the Amazon Echo Dot in every guestroom. It was important for all of our guests to get the same experience, and it enables us to get a better feel for how it’s being received,” said Jenne Oxford, general manager of Kimpton Alexis Hotel in Seattle. “There are a lot of amazing functions that the Volara-powered Amazon Echo has allowed us to implement. Guests can request items such as extra towels, a toothbrush or housekeeping service—all through the voice-powered software. We can also customize messages for groups in-house, so whether you’re part of a conference or wedding block, hosts can record and send us a response that will be played when we load a specific question on the device. Alexa can also give great local advice on where to eat, shop or hang out with kids. All of the answers were developed by our concierge team, so you’re getting the same great advice that you would get from our staff directly.”

In summer 2016, the former Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. was among the first to experiment with voice-activated guestrooms—dubbed “Project: Jetson”—at the Aloft Boston Seaport and Aloft Santa Clara in California, providing iPads and encouraging travelers to holler, “Hey Siri” to control features in the room. Now a part of Marriott International, the reach is even wider: Amazon Echo is piloting at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa.

“We haven’t decided to go with one technology over another, but we felt at the time that Amazon’s work has been the most robust and had more running time with it compared to new ones. Facebook’s virtual assistant is in the works still and Google very recently came out with its platform,” said Toni Stoeckl, VP and global brand leader, distinctive select brands, Marriott International. “We found that Amazon was fantastic and consumers had become more accustomed to Amazon’s technology already because it’s in a lot more households.”

Hoteliers are getting on board with Amazon Echo’s Alexa knowing that it’s a process of getting to know one another. As the technology is still in its infancy, Stoeckl explained that there’s a lot of back-end work to perfect it. Over time, the device learns the most frequently asked questions, whether it is finding a great Mexican restaurant or obtaining directions to a museum. As it grows more intelligent, the device will be adaptable to more questions provided.

“It needs to learn you a little bit and you need to learn how to interact with it, so we felt that a platform that was already a little more broadly available was the best way to go about it,” said Stoeckl. 

On the property level at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, General Manager Arthur Coulombe agreed: “We began with a test in 10 of our resort rooms and we are planning on including the Amazon Echo Dot in more rooms very soon. The key for the initial test phase was to make sure we gather and incorporate as many requests as possible, so Alexa’s knowledge base has a wealth of data for all guests,” he said. “The sky is the limit on what can be programmed in this AI unit. Integration with other system software, like valet parking here, will probably be the immediate next testing plan.”

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, hospitality will likely never be the same in terms of customer service. Will the personal touch fall by the wayside in favor of a more technical touch? Oxford said no. “Using technology to communicate with our guests in new and exciting ways is important to us. We want to allow our guests to hear from us in whatever way works best for them. While we will always focus our service on personal connections with our staff, we want to give our guests options made possible through new technology so they can decide how they want to give and receive information,” she said.  “Our guests will always be the first priority—and we’re still in the early stages of this launch. As guests get more comfortable with new technology and want to use devices like the Echo while they’re traveling, we will do our best to provide that service for them in new iterations.” 

“The Amazon Echo will help take the guest experience to another level, which creates more guest retention,” said Weaver. “For Wynn, guest experience isn’t the most important thing—it’s the only thing—and technology like Echo that improves the guest experience is very important to us.”